Despite it being the year that saw President Park Geun-hye implicated and subsequently impeached in a corruption scandal that gripped the world, South Korea has managed to climb back up to 21 after falling in 2016. Somewhat surprisingly, the nation also managed to climb five places in our Government sub-index thanks to relatively strong performances in the gender equality and democracy metrics. Turning towards South Korea’s strengths, the world leader in internet connectivity has earned its spot in the top five of our Digital sub-index. With the MFA also competitive across the digital diplomacy metrics, South Korea could further improve its digital score with a more active and engaged President Moon Jae-in. Despite strong assets across all of our sub-indices, South Korea performs poorly in the international polling data. This could be due to a lack of understanding around the North-South divide, or a default assumption that all of Korea is associated with ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons testing. As the world remains largely unaware of South Korea’s offering, a greater commitment to public diplomacy efforts and nation branding is critical.
South Korea maintains a formidable 3rd position in our Enterprise sub-index, outperforming all other countries in number of global patents and earning its reputation as an attractive place to do business with a wealth of talent across the tech and innovation sectors.
Given the volatility of its government over the last year, it’s perhaps no surprise to see South Korea sitting at 21st in our Government sub-index. With President Park’s successor, a left-leaning liberal, ushering in a period of stability, the world waits to see whether his leadership will herald an era of rapprochement with North Korea, as well as a meeting of minds with US President Trump over Pyongyang’s nuclear programmes.
South Korea would benefit from a shift in international perceptions – the nation ranks 27th in our international polling for the second year in a row. South Korea should be investing even more in its public diplomacy efforts, not only to distance itself from its northern neighbour, but also to promote its booming tech sector and unique cultural assets.